Traveling on wafting fingers of smell

The wafting fingers of smell will connect me instantly to places in the past via the invisible subway of time, coursing through memories that otherwise would be lost. Or maybe they were never there. For the strangest reason, chopping an onion invariably takes me to the corner of two streets whose names I can no longer remember — Rio Grande and 13th? — near the University of Texas in Austin. I’m immediately standing in front of a small convenience store on that corner. Not inside the store, just standing outside looking at it. Why I travel to that spot when I cut an onion I have no idea, but I absolutely can verify I never cut an onion standing on that corner 55 years ago.

The smell of French perfume, which is unique compared to American scents, takes me to the New Hebrides, where we’re anchored stern-to in our sailboat in front of a colonizer’s grand home. Across the early morning still waters is a small island where women are cooking yams and the staples of the day over their cookfires. I can hear the cry of babies drifting across the still waters. I was pregnant at the time with my second child, and the smell of that perfume reminds me of the morning sickness I suffered.

The smell of marshland transports me to a childhood playing freely along the creeks of Maryland, while the smell of booze and cigarettes leaves me hiding in the darkness of night. On the rich sap smell of a pine forest, I travel to hot afternoons arriving at unnamed mountain campsites. The sweet smell of a salty ocean and creosoted wharf pilings carry me quickly to Cape Cod for the summer, while the whiff of fresh horse apples transports me on horseback to the foothills of Santa Barbara.

Why should I buy a plane ticket to travel when so many smells carry me away for free?

A fear to overcome

MY FEAR OF LOSING MYSELF

If there flowed a river, I would swim it
If there stood a mountain, I would climb it
If there were a meadow, I would dance in it
If there grew a flower, I would smell it
If there sang a bird, I would rejoice in it
And these things — and I — would remain the same.

But

If there were a man in whom all these things existed,
I fear I would need run from him….

For if I entered into the strength of his mountain
Or swam and danced and sang with his soul,
Within the flowing scent of this new quivering song,
Surely I would change — then who would I be?

On the wings of that siren’s song
I return to the mountain,
To the beauty of the meadow and flowers,
To the rapture of the bird,
I return to me.

By car, by train, by boat

Ah, to travel. And for what purpose? To experience places beyond my front yard, of course. By car, the other place might include a grocery store or the local used bookstore, or the post office; it might include the experience of visiting a friend and catching up. And, of course, there are the greater adventures by car, traveling to our great national parks, Yellowstone to Mesa Verde, and places in between, camping under the stars.

But to experience far-away places, my most favored way to travel is by sailboat. All that I need is on board: my sleeping quarters, food, water, clothing, and books to read. Once the sails are set, the sea pulls me into her arms where I’m rocked to sleep or tossed in its more exuberant moments of tempest and storms. The longer I’m at sea, the more peaceful and joyful I feel. My ego lies down, and I find myself to be little more than a piece of dust in the immensity of the universe floating on this blue globe in an endless black space. Though a sailboat can, and must arrive, in larger ports in order to clear customs – those malignant cities on the edges of land masses big or small – a sailboat can move away from those noisy, dirty places and slip into the untouched bays and coves, less touched by “civilization.”

I no longer have a sailboat, and it’s been many years since I’ve sailed. Sailing is slow, as travel should be, traveling 100 to 200 miles a day, so much different than I would travel now. To visit another country, I zoom to an airport to hop on a plane to take me to the other side of the world, flying over great expanses of land, missing all the sights to be seen had I been down on the ground. But when I arrive in that foreign land, I stay in cheap hostels, and I always opt for public transportation — the local “chicken” buses or trains, however it is the local people travel — so that I can experience the place to which I’ve traveled and not the mirror image reflected in hotels or promoted through the travel brochures back home.

What is “success”?

Humanity is the only organism that even contemplates “success.” All other organisms just go about the process of living — breathing, eating, nesting, procreating, dying — without any contemplation of succeeding or failing. For we monkey-minded individuals, we set goals, and success is overcoming our self-imposed challenges or hardships — whether mental, physical or spiritual — by maintaining a continued focus as we climb to the top of our mountains.

There are times, success may be defined by others. As a writer, success is when readers discover my book and — thoroughly enjoying it — they recommend it to others or buy it as a gift to share (Aweigh of Life under my pen name of e.d. snow). But as the author of that book, my sense of success is very personal. Since writing is a long and arduous journey, success is in having completed that journey, having gotten it published, and ultimately feeling confident that it’s well written and I accomplished what I set out to achieve.

But the definition of “success” is a spinning top. For a drug addict or alcoholic, success could be scoring the next fix or it could be finally turning the key and committing to a clean-and-sober life and establishing a supportive community. What is deemed “success” will always be relative to who is watching the movie called Life and how thoughtful the perceived goal was.

They do say there are no winners in war, but for those engaged in it, success for the aggressor is killing and destroying as much as possible until the defender is crushed and surrenders. As the defender, success is in gathering the forces of spirit and the resources and tact to crush the aggressors, driving them from their space and territory. For the UN and peacekeepers, success is in garnering and maintaining a peace treaty.

For me, success can never be achieved if the goal is wealth and riches, which I believe  fuels of all wars, because those who aspire for such will never be satisfied. They will clamor for more. Success is in finding peace within our own internal wars and damping down the weapons of anger, jealousy, greed, sloth, envy, restlessness, and, yes, doubt.

Success is witnessed in the achievements of little seven-year-old Aneeshwar Kunchala who  writes his own poetry and creates his own YouTube blogs on saving the earth and gets international recognition for it. Success is having the courage to give voice in order to change the human dialogue, to bring focus to the existential issues facing humankind, those voices being heroes like the Greta Thunbergs, Martin Luther King, Jrs., and Nelson Mandelas of the world, who took on the challenge to be spokespeople for all.  Yes, like writing a book, ultimate success will depend upon how many hear the cries and react and act to effect the change necessary for humanity’s survival.

Success is being able to touch the depth of one’s spirit and heart in the midst of the worst of adversities and from that depth gather the strength to help others.

Success  is being able to be a still pond in the midst of all challenges in life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is there a book that changed my life?

Pondering on the question of whether or not a book changed my life, I would be quicker to say there was one book that woke me up and ultimately steered me down a certain path. I’ve often wondered if I even had a choice, and if I’d chosen differently who would I be had this book not appeared in my life. Did it change me? It definitely steered my course towards being mindful and making changes in how I behave in life — not that I was always successful, but it got the wheel turning. And I cannot ignore how blatantly obvious the Universe was in placing this book in my path. Such an event is not to be ignored! So the wheel begins to turn with Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous as a book that possibly changed my life.

In 1969, 19 years old, I sailed from Hawai’i to San Francisco, falling in love with deepwater sailing. Upon returning to Hawai’i, I bought the Wanderer II, a 24-foot gaff-rigged cutter, with all intentions of sailing around the world by myself. Besides the sails and necessary equipment to sail, there were two books onboard. One was The Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda (a book I never got around to reading until 2010 when I moved to Costa Rica).

The second was In Search of the Miraculous, which conveys the teachings of George Gurdjieff, a Russian philosopher, mystic, and spiritual teacher. It was deep and heavy reading for my naive and unworldly mind. I remember studying that book like my life depended upon it though. There was something being taught that no one, no education, had introduced me to. And I’m happy to say, Houston, there was ignition and lift-off from the ground of sleepwalking into a glimmer of a higher consciousness. Though I would fall asleep again and again, the wheel was turning and the direction of my life seemed to have shifted.

I ended up selling the Wanderer a year later, freeing myself to crew on other boats. I made two more deliveries from Hawai’i to the Mainland before I caught a boat to the South Pacific where I sailed and lived for seven years. The ocean itself deepened my focus, lending its contemplative space to my mystic ruminations. I eventually returned to the U.S., as a parent, entering the path of family and responsibility. As those years rolled past, the spark was kept alive by books and workshops by the then current popular spiritual teachers like Gary Zukav and Deepok Chopra and others.

Of course, I’d indulge in novels that brought tears and laughter, as well understanding and compassion, but I continued reading books in pursuit of this higher consciousness, in search of that mystic enlightenment. Those readings began to lean towards Buddhism. Of course, I’d read Siddhartha in high school; but I revisited it with a deeper understanding. I read David Wright’s Why Buddhism is True, The Essence of Buddhism by Traleg Kyabgon, Jack Kornfield’s books, as well as dozens if not hundreds of others, devouring the philosophy and thought.

Then I read Peter Coyote’s memoir, The Rainman’s Cure. The wheel of life turned me a bit further down the path. Coyote’s book was pivotal in me realizing that reading about Buddhism was far different than the practice of sitting on the cushion and actually meditating. It was with that awareness instilled by Coyote’s memoir that I began, and continue, my meditation practice in the Thai Forest tradition and the teachings of Ajahn Chah.

Becoming more mindful and focused, I found that my meditation practice provided the discipline to finally sit down and write my memoir, Aweigh of Life, the experiences of those seven years sailing and living in the South Pacific 45 years previously.

The process of writing Aweigh of Life was — quite unexpectedly — an extremely cathartic experience. After all, one must be very honest with oneself when writing a memoir, and in that honesty, well-hidden “secrets” are often revealed. Though it’s a “sweeping tale” (as one reader put it) of my adventures, including the unique experience of giving birth to my first child on a remote island in Papua New Guinea, and interlaced with historical, cultural and geographical descriptions, the writing process itself brought into the forefront of my awareness what had been driving me my entire life to be aweigh of life. Recognizing myths I’ve lived by — I have found — heightens my meditation practice, my mindfulness, and the wheel keeps turning.

So I could say that Aweigh of Life is that book that changed my life because of the cathartic experience in writing it and the next level of awareness it brought to me? Or I could say Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous was that book, 50 years ago, that ignited that spark to pursue a more awake life of contemplation, meditation, and mindfulness?

Or I could say it all just is the way it is. I am the way I am. Nothing changed me.

Who knows for sure if a book or anything at all changed me?

It all just was the way it was.

It just is.

A SPREADING TREE

Oh, my. Oh, dear, the rabbit hole one can go down when a blog prompt asks how far back in your family tree have you gone.

1470 in England, I think!!!

I first started peeking into my family history about 30 years ago, when, after my mother died, I inherited boxes of memorabilia that had been passed down from the elders before her. There were photos, of course, with only a few that had  names written on the back. But there was a piece of paper that someone had created that linked my maternal grandmother’s family back to Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard College in 1640, who, the best I followed, was my great-times-many grandfather. I am fascinated that in this day and age, one can even Google him, i.e., https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-Dunster  or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Dunster. But finding that piece of paper and discovering that history certainly piqued my interest in genealogy.

Thirty years ago, I started by going to a local Mormon Church and pored through their microfiche and ordered papers from Salt Lake City, peeling the onion very slowly. Then life sidetracked me for 25 years. A couple years ago, having a bit more time and realizing that the 23andme and ancestry.com had amassed huge quantities of genealogical data, I signed up for Ancestry.com for six months. It was expensive (I remember when it used to be free). I fell into a deep rabbit hole.

Following further down the line from the educated Henry Dunster, I got back as far as the parents of Sir Knight T. Pownde who married Lady Wroughte; Sir Pownde’s parents were born in 1470. This made sense in looking at old family photos on my mother’s side; there was a certain regalness in their bearing. There was money and education for generations. My maternal grandfather and his grandfather, for sure, were Harvard graduates.

And then there was my mother’s great-uncle, Edgar B. Davis whose legacy also can be Googled endlessly. He was a fascinating figure worth millions in his time, from the rubber industry to wildcatting in Luling, Texas. He was a devout Christian, and eccentric, and the family memorabilia revealed he’d paid to run a Christian Broadway show for over a year even though nobody attended and he lost millions. Fascinating character, though not an old timer by any means in the family tree

Though my father himself became a professor at Harvard, the path down his side is a thin, dirt path of coal miners and leather workers and farmers. My paternal family name is almost as ubiquitous as Smith, and it was a struggle to get back as far as I did, 1795.  But again I popped up out of the rabbit hole, looked around in the light and felt the need to take care of living now. Though a treasure trove to mine, I canceled my membership as I wasn’t finding or taking the time use the site for my money I’d invested.

But while writing this blog, my interest has been once again piqued to go back even further. I went to Ancestry and discovered they have a half-price sale going, so I have bitten the bullet and purchased another six months. (But for sure it’s on my calendar to unsubscribe before it’s due to roll over at full price.)

Rain

On the metal roof of the van in which I live, the dance begins. The solitary tap dance of a single drop gathers momentum as its companions are called forth to perform. In dis-gust, the wind blows those tiny dancers aside, to drip down the side of the van, as if to conclude the rain dance. But the misty cloud of falling water that followed and had been waiting in the limbs of trees, gathering the strength of the storm, becomes a grand orchestra whose beat thumps and jumps, pumps and dumps down in its thicker tones, baritone plops and bass-string pops. For a time, it plays a more harried, almost frantic, beat as it pounds down, selfishly obliterating all other sounds … before it’s silenced by the sun.

Whispers of rain came as

Tinkles of sprinkles
Dancing like galloping ants
Rustling green foliage

Musical stanzas
Orchestral liquid movement
Ghosting petrichor

Thunderheads roiling
Shadowy billows retreat
Memory puddles.

Why do I write?

I write to give form to a feeling – whether emotional, physical or perceptive – so that others might have the experience for themselves or that they might better understand what I experienced, if they feel the need. I write to give form to a visceral sensation that otherwise would disappear into the nothingness of life.

I write to capture old transmissions coming from afar, believing that everything in life already exists and that writers are simply receivers, picking up the threads of ancient stories to tell again. Having no barriers as they move through the ether, I write them down quickly before they’re gone without even an echo. I write to reconstitute the endless variations of existence revealed in those transmitted stories.

I write because I have thoughts that others don’t understand. I write to stay in touch with my reality and to avoid an argument about their reality.

I write with the hope that I will transport myself — or a future reader — to realms into which my imagination travels, to worlds and places that otherwise would simply not exist.

I write to capture dreams.

I write to argue against perceived injustices.

I write that I might filter myself before I speak, that I might not injure another with criticisms or harsh words. I write to express an anger that, at that moment, should never be expressed, and yet my soul clamors for the catharsis that comes with its expression. Once expressed, I’m content to leave those angry words to rest silently on paper or in the bowels of my computer.

I write to explore meanings I’ve given to past experiences so that I might go back through the time line of my life and revisit what beliefs I’d clung to at that time. I write to see the myriad of iterations I’ve lived on this earth, capturing those myths I lived by at that moment before I wrapped myself into different costumes life called me to wear. Like a photographer, I’m driven to capture that image, those moments in time to preserve them so that, as an armchair visitor, I can reenter that imprisoned moment.

I have old family photos that go back into the early 1800s, but there are no words or stories told of their aspirations, fears, trials and tribulations. Now, with the world becoming more digitalized where photos may never be passed down to future generations, it becomes even more important that I write to preserve what life was like back in “these old days.” I write for a grandchild or great-grandchild and those that follow that they might be better able to understand the epigenetic dysfunction that haunts them, so they might understand what they inherited, or simply that they know the stories of the bloodline from which he or she descended. As my memory fades with the years, I write for the seventh generation. But I also write for me, to capture those moments, minutes — now years — of memories that are moving so far out into the universe of time that they’re becoming foggy ghosts with little form.

I write because I can’t help myself.

What brings me joy?

I find my deepest joy in moments of deep meditation where I feel I am the joy; that the Everything and I are shimmering in a place where there are no thoughts, no judgments, no comparisons. It’s a giant emptiness filled with a quiet joy.

In the world where all my senses perceive its sights and sounds and textures, it’s found in baby’s smiles and puppy breath. I touch it in sunsets on mountain tops and exquisite desert sunrises. It’s in the exhale of leaves touched so lightly by the soughing of a breeze. Great joy is found on a high cliff overlooking the endless ocean. It’s carried on the call of an eagle or raven or in sighting a buck standing majestic in my field.

Nature and all things natural bring me joy, even great storms.

The coming together of people in a crisis, working together, sharing and caring, brings me great joy in the moment, as does the returning to the silence and solitude of my home to enjoy a good book and contemplation.

Joy is fleeting and yet it’s ever present and everywhere.  I need only pause to allow it to fill me.